We've now entered what Douglas Adams, author of the ridiculously mislabeled Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy, once called The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul. The off-season, particularly the portion of it immediately after the season, is a good time for reflection on the racing year that came before us.
Despite highly regrettable results, I'm not upset with the season. Some things happened, and I'm damn glad just to be here, Howard. I might not be riding or racing at all, so I am truly grateful for what I was able to do.
Let's recap a little bit. I was laid up for about 6 of the first 8 weeks of the year. This decimated my fitness. I was in the state I call "Fat but Fit" where I carry about 15 pounds more than my usual (fat) race weight through the winter when my left foot and ankle blew up, just after New Years. This added a bit of weight and put me in the category I call "Fat but Just Plain Fat."
Off-season fitness is tenuous; you try to maintain it with a patchwork of trainer work, snow mountain bike rides, frigid road rides that are often cut short due to irrational attachment to toes and nose, and, gosh darnit, a social life conducted in the harsh glare of mellow lighting, martinis and tasty, rich snacks. A six week layoff at the end of that is a little sub-optimal if you're hoping to progress as a racer.
The ankle came around enough that I could walk on it by early February, and actually ride on it by mid-February. I was dreading group rides around then. I recall hitting a Tradezone race with Seibold and just about crapping my pants trying to keep up with his easy spin. That's how far I fell with that layoff. It was dreadful. It wasn't bad enough to keep me out of Coppi camp in mid-March, however. Three to four weeks of mostly easy spinning - a ridiculously hard easy - got me more or less ready for that. I didn't ride strong but got a lot of mountain miles in; it's good training. Getting lost by myself for three hours and riding on dirt roads up mountains in the snow was also a highlight, despite a nagging fear of freezing to death in the mountains and not being found until July. Except by the coyotes.
Coming out of camp some confidence was returning, so I hit the Escape From Granogue, in a desperate effort to get some revenge for its clubbing me in the head with a cleverly hidden oak tree last year. If you didn't do that race, I'm not going to bother trying to tell you what the mud was like because (1) no description could capture the shittiness of it; and, (2) even bad descriptions 50% weaker than how bad it was sound unbelievable to anybody who didn't race that day. When the guys next to me at the wash rack were experts who had only completed one lap before packing it in, like me, I knew it was bad.
That didn't sour me on the mountain bike, so I hit the Baker's Dozen, trying my first 12 hour solo, in the single speed class. Um, that hurt considerably. I found that my Pain Cave actually has an additional room, wayyyyy at the back. You can't get into it until you're in the darkest part of the normal cave, and you're staggering around in delirium. As you skin your shins on stalagmites and stumble into walls, if you pull really hard on just the right razor sharp rock, a secret door opens up and you will find the Swedish Bikini Team, a kegerator full of ice cold Sierra Nevada, your own masseur, and an easy chair with NHL playoffs on the big screen.
That's right, there's a place in the Pain Cave where it's so bad you start going utterly delirious ad thinking you're enjoying the experience. Finishing a narrow DFL in my class (but still beating a bunch of two-man teams) I decided I'd like to go back there and make that course my bitch. Plus I'd swear this Bikini Team member named Heidi told me to stop back in, though it could have just been the salamander I was licking after the 8th lap that told me to come back sometime.
About two weeks after that, the ankle started to blow up again for no apparent reason and I decided to get a surgical consult. I didn't care what the problem was, I wasn't going back to being utterly immobile until the thing settled down. This time the doc got a good Cat Scan, figured out that my problem was actually likely a fused toe, and we talked about cutting. He thought that the fused toe was making me walk funny, and this was aggravating my mildly dorked up ankles. All it takes to fix a fused toe is to take a saw to the joint, resection it, then take a tiny grinder to the joint surfaces and grind them into a smooth mortar & pestle sort of configuration. [Ed. Nothing to it...] He then explained the risks, I told him that I didn't give a flying fig, the damn thing needed to be fixed. He said if I could be in early on the next Tuesday - four days away - he'd fix it.
One Dremel Tool grind job on my left big toe later, I found myself on the sofa in pain again, only this time with the hope things would get better.
The road back was tough. I didn't know if I'd come through the operation okay, or if the toe would heal up right. For those it helps, the operation tends to help a lot. For many of those it doesn't help - maybe 20 or 30% - it makes it worse. A lot worse.
I wouldn't know for a while. From mid-June to late July, it was L1/L2 spinning only. I couldn't have pushed harder if I wanted to; there was this pressure in my foot that felt like a mean person warning me they were about to kick my ass. I didn't want to aggravate the mean person.
By the time the foot was half healed, cross season was looming. I had a lot of questions about whether the foot would hold up to the pounding of hopping off the bike, runups, and constant accelerations, never mind the mid-week high power intervals. Power tests were strong; I managed a string of personal bests for FTP through the mid season. And lo, the foot held up.
Alas, my results were not great. The B Masters class has suddenly become very competitive. Guys I raced around before are still there; it's just that there are now 25 more dudes in front of us. And most of the time it seemed like circumstances were conspiring against me. At Ed Sander, a course I can hammer when it's dry, we had to go miles through deep mud, something few big guys navigate well. At Hyattsville... I just don't know. I had an okay race and finished on the lead lap, was approaching halfway around when Robinson was taking the win, but f***ing everybody was in front of me, it seemed. Then I was having the race of the season at All Hallows, hangin' with Schiecken and passing guys, grooving on the slippery bits, when I had a monster crash. Yes, my left hand *still* is bruised from that. Throw in the seemingly endless rain this year, and it was a recipe for a bad time.
But good stuff did happen to me. Really good stuff. And I'm happy about it.
For one thing, I figured out my move. My move is wait until it's really bad, slippery, nasty, then go real hard. Seems the big boy handles alright. Slippery clay like we had at All Hallows is the ticket. Deep mud you can blast through like after the big downhills at Reston? I can fly. Deep mud that you have to pedal through like the uphills at All Hallows and Granogue, or the flats at Reston and Ed Sander? Death. But at least I've got a move. The Move helps on sand too, a surface I can suddenly ride now.
For another thing, with the help of a commenter on this blog, I found out something important about cross bike setup. That is, you want to have a lot of weight on the front, more than you would for normal road setup. That helped *lots*.
And for another nother thing, I figured out at Rockburn that I am really sick of being a big dude who is fast-for-a-big-dude-with lots of unrealized potential. This occurred to me on a hill out there about 1.5 laps in. I'd been riding strong, but then just had nothing left, no legs. I was cracked. About 10 guys passed me on the one hill, after I'd handled my way into someplace mid-pack. I didn't like that feeling and it's motivating a diet. A hard diet that gives me headaches and makes me mean like a snake but without the charming personality, BTW. I'm going to use that as a reference point for the next six months or a year.
The final thing I learned is that I liked promoting the Tacchino, and that it was fun because I've got good friends on the team, good friends in the cycling community, and I happen to live in a good cross community to begin with. That was one of the high points of the year.
So yeah, it's been a really good year. I can't think of any other way to describe it. Sure, there's a little deflation from not having a race to do every weekend. But it's good to get some family time in, to clean all the crap that I've been putting off for months (like the Man Cave, the bedroom and the cross bike) and to recharge.
It's also a good time to start a diet, to tell the coach you don't want to look at a Powertap for two months, and to chart out the new year.
And that's what I'm going to do. There's a glass of bourbon with my name on it (low carbs... nice...), and that's what I'm about to go do, sit and reflect on last year's racing, and think about what to do in the new one. I'll let you know how it turns out.